They're playing for Mike

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

Barry Bonds sets a mark for home runs in a season, hitting Nos. 71 and 72, but San Francisco is eliminated from the playoffs with an 11-10 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Six weeks ago they were high-fiving on the greens at Glen Abbey, taking turns rolling in impossible putts on their way to improbable victory in the biggest scramble tournament in Canada.

The Belvedere Boys, head pro Allan Elgie and four double-digit handicappers in their 50s, had upset every big- name track in the country.

"We birdied 18 to win by a stroke," said Elgie, a longtime pro at the Belvedere Golf and Country Club just outside of Edmonton.

"We knew we had to play over our heads and our guys putted the lights out. It was like the hole was two feet in diameter and they could not miss."

A score of 13-under gave them the Canadian title and, more importantly, an invitation to this week's Buick Scramble in Orlando, Florida - the largest tournament of its kind in the world.

The one where Tiger Woods hands out the trophy to the winners. The one that 20,000 teams across North America try to qualify for every year. The one with 214 teams and $287,000 in prize money.

Four grey-haired buddies from the regular Tuesday game at Belvedere - Mike Blink, Doug Sharkey, Gary Stuart and Gary Ross - were in. How sweet is that?

An invite to a 72-hole tournament in Florida. First-class accommodations, gifts, dinners, tours, great courses and a million laughs. It doesn't get any better.

EMOTIONS TURNED QUICKLY

"We couldn't believe it," said Elgie. "Everyone was just totally excited."

But they had barely finished celebrating the win at Glen Abbey when Blink had to call his buddies together and tell them he wouldn't be going.

"It was maybe two weeks after we got back from Toronto that he found out," said Elgie. "He starts chemo and radiation right away."

One day they're pumped about this great golf trip to Orlando where they might get to meet Woods, and the next they're trying to find the right words for a teammate who's just found out he has colon cancer.

"The initial reaction was just devastation, where everybody just says, 'Oh my God,' " said Gary Koehli, a close friend of Blink's and a regular in the Tuesday afternoon game. "All you can think about is what one of your best friends is going through."

But none of them could even imagine. Fifty-eight years old, ready to kick off the prime of his life with the coolest golf trip ever ... and now this.

"Everyone was absolutely shocked, just shocked," said Elgie. "Mike had a trip of a lifetime going here, he had just retired a year and a half ago, and now he's got this battle on his hands."

Blink and his wife Kathy, who'd never been to Florida, planned on staying an extra 10 days after the Buick Scramble and making a holiday of it. They were also planning a trip to Thailand with the Koehlis.

"We go quite regularly and they said they were going to come with us after Kathy retired," said Koehli. "She took retirement this spring, so they were all booked to go with us in January.

"Of course, that's not going to happen now. That's the sad part - there's a lot more to this than a golf game."

But Blink knew they couldn't pass up an opportunity like the Buick, so when he told the team he wasn't going, he suggested Koehli take his place.

"He's part of that gang that plays every Tuesday," said Elgie. "So it's a natural fit."

They could have replaced Blink with another nine handicapper, as allowed by the rules, but never even discussed the matter - they went with their pal, a 13, instead. Friendship before handicap.

"It's really a roller coaster of emotions," said Koehli, who leaves for Orlando this morning. "How can you not be excited about going down and playing in something like this, but we're also very concerned that Mike's diagnosis is not that promising."

HE KEPT THE BOYS LOOSE

Not only was Blink their low handicapper and best short-game player (it was his 22-foot birdie putt that gave them the one-stroke win at Glen Abbey), he was the guy who always kept the boys loose and the spirits up with the perfectly timed quips and razor-sharp digs.

They'll miss that in Orlando as much as his touch around the greens.

"It'll be an emotional time," said Elgie. "But there will also be a real challenge for us to do what we can for Mike."

Elgie had shirts made up for the team: A Canadian flag on one sleeve and "Play for Mike" on the other. The people from Buick want an interview as soon as the team arrives and the Golf Channel is apparently interested in their story as well.

"This tournament has really brought everyone together," said Koehli. "We're really committed to going down there and winning this thing for Mike."


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